Heated debates, clashing perspectives, but also agreements and new insights could be found at 202030 The Berlin Fashion Summit, that took place as part of this years Berlin Fashion Week from 06-09 September 2021. As Prof. Dr. Sebastian Sierra-Barra from the University of Applied Sciences Berlin pointed out in his introductory keynote “Fashion is a part of our cultural history”. Indeed, fashion and the consumption of textiles are an indispensable part of our everyday life. Yet, fashion is one of the largest polluting industries. High co2 emissions, water consumption, waste accumulation, chemical pollutions and microfibers being released into our oceans results in a practice that cannot be justified without change. Thus, the Berlin Fashion Summit brought together international stakeholders from fields such as, academic research, entrepreneurship, and the creative industries to facilitate collaboration towards a more sustainable future in the fashion industry.
The first day of the Summit focused on the concept of circularity. Among participants, there was a large consensus that the fashion industry must move away from a linear “take, make, and waste” economic model towards a circular system, similar to that of the natural world. Within the fashion industry, the term circularity defines the process around the production of a clothing piece that is based on giving back to nature. It describes the design, sourcing, production, disassembling and reusage of garments that are made of biodegradable fibres.
Lavinia Muth, from circular fashion brand Armedangels, stated that being sustainable within a society that has already exceeded several planetary boundaries is simply not enough. In response, Summit participants demanded change in several sectors as a means to achieve circularity in the fashion industry. For instance, from an economical perspective, circular systems need to become more profitable. Daniel Magunje, from Lablaco, stated that “Circularity requires a critical attitude towards existing business models, which is generally lacking within the fashion industry”. Next to that, the potential role of technology was emphasised. Participants brought up diverse approaches ranging from QR codes or product passports that make garments origin and originality transparent, to digital clothing over to the artificial creation of formerly unknown biodegradable fabrics. Matthias Horx from Zukunftsinstitut Horx put it in a nutshell: “At the moment the fashion industry is not an intelligent one. (…) We have to think differently. (…) With technology we get new options (…) but we have to use them wisely”. Furthermore, it was appealed to the legal sector to set up clear definitions for circularity and implement a standard producer responsibility system. Lastly, the role of consumers was put forward. Sociologist Melanie Jaeger-Erben drew attention to the consumer’s responsibility to consume wisely, while Matthias Fuchs from OceanSafe argued for designers’ responsibility to provide responsible fashion.
Overall, there was no agreement in terms of what issue is the most urgent. However, the interdependency of stakeholders within the fashion industry became clear. At the moment, labels sole willingness to become circular, does not suffice. Large scale circularity can only become feasible if all stakeholders regard themselves as responsible and exchange innovative ideas within a collaborative process.
The second day of the 202030Berlin Fashion Summit focused on urban social networks, also referred to as local ecosystems, that are a result of collaboration among stakeholders from diverse fields. Afra Gloria Müller from Send e.V., started the discussion by stating “The power of a network lies in its diversity”. Local ecosystems were agreed to be a necessity to achieve the shared goal of a more sustainable future. It was said to provide diverse perspectives that result in more solidarity, critical thinking, and various problem-solving approaches. Besides, having a network of people helps find a shared voice, increase the visibility of problems, and facilitates efficient communication of the fashion industry’s needs to law-makers.
During the Summit it became clear that Berlin already exhibits a diverse landscape that supports the implementation of circularity within the fashion industry. However, the concept of circularity has not yet reached the mainstream industry. To do so it was agreed that we need local ecosystems that provide an environment which fosters innovative thinking. Professor Günter Faltin, founder of the Entrepreneurship foundation, highlighted “You have to walk the new way, if you want to have a new way”. He appealed to stakeholders in the fashion industry to create local ecosystems that promote a culture of failure forgiveness. A culture in which individuals feel free to experiment and start acting. Moreover, local ecosystems that resulted in universally applicable frameworks need to become global, which was demonstrated by Cecilie Thorsmark on the example of the Copenhagen Fashion Week. Ultimately, day 2 of the Summit ended with a sobering quote by Clare Press, from the Wardrobe Crisis Podcast. She urged for this transition to happen as quickly as possible “We are still growing exponentially and producing too much. (…) We worked for many years to achieve a global supply chain and it's going to take a long time to roll it back”.
The last day of the Summit revealed fundamental flaws within the fashion’s industries impact measurement. Prof. Dr. Michael Braungart ,from the EPEA- international environment research, emphasized the importance of a hedonistic approach. “We need to enjoy life, otherwise, sustainability will not work”. Braungart pointed out that current impact assessment is solely focusing on minimizing mankind’s impact on the environment. He proposed that rather than feeling guilty about our impact, we should start creating a positive one. However, according to Dr. Max Marwede from Fraunhofer IZM, positive impact measurement is a new and underfunded field.
During the Summit, it became clear that not just one’s philosophy towards impact management plays a vital role. According to Alexander Nolte, from the non-profit organisation Stop! Micro Waste, “We lack data and clear definitions”. He drew attention on the unreliability of research that fails to collect data that mirrors the reality of clothing consumption, which benefits those in the fashion industry, who have no interest in solving the pollution problem. Nolte demanded a legislation that prevents customers from being deceived by companies that use untrustworthy data to present themselves as sustainable. Nora Vehling, from Fashion Revolution Germany, highlighted the importance of trustworthy data for good decision making. She insisted on a universal unit to help make a product’s carbon footprint visible in that context. While Veronica Bates Kassatly, an Independent Analyst & Consultant, demanded fashion companies to exhibit data that shows that their product’s entire supply chain adheres to all aspects of the sustainability definition, including that the essential needs of the world’s poor should not be compromised.
Ultimately, the 202030 Berlin Fashion Summit made one realize the vast amount of issues which outnumber viable solutions at hand. When it comes to climate change, we are running out of time and change might seem slow. However, events like the 202030 Berlin Fashion Summit evoke hope by bringing stakeholders together. Such events do not only enable collaboration but also inspiration, which drives change that certainly paves the way for a more sustainable fashion industry in the future. A good starting point for all of us is to seek quality. As stated by Claudia Hofmann, Co-Founder of Fashion Council Germany, quality is something personal. “Quality has a price but does not need to be expensive. It is about taking care of about the things you have.”.